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Mrs. Beckett: I have taken on board my hon. Friend's remarks about volunteers and I understand the pride that he and his constituents properly take in the record of those who served in our armed forces during a difficult conflict. I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, but I fear that I cannot find time for any other opportunity to discuss the matter. He will be aware that the Armed Forces Bill was introduced on 11 December; he may find an opportunity to raise the issue during debates on that Bill.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Can we please have a focused, and possibly brief, debate to clarify how many of our vetoes have been given up by the Prime Minister in exchange for qualified majority votes? The Prime Minister, with his slender grasp of reality and his ignorance of his briefs, made great play of the fact that the only matter that he thought of any importance to have been given up to qualified majority voting was something to do with the pensions of members of the Court of Auditors, which he found very amusing.
A debate on the matter would allow us to flush out, if the Prime Minister were here and if he had read his brief, whether qualified majority voting now applied, for example, to the appointment of the European Commission President or of members of the Court of Auditors, to the rules of procedure of the European Court of Justice, to the rules for structural funds and the cohesion fund, and to Community financial assistance to the member states. These matters should be clarified for the House. The Prime Minister cannot be allowed to get away with his rather trite dealing with a matter which, in the end, is going to be one of huge national importance.
Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): The quality of life in hundreds of communities throughout the country is adversely affected by the operations of nearby airports--for example, by night noise, air pollution and land take. Those communities will have noted with interest the publication this week of the Government's consultation document "The Future of Aviation". They will, however, be puzzled by its timing, in that it has arrived too late to influence the terminal 5 inquiry at Heathrow, but too early to reflect its conclusions.
Can the Leader of the House find time, before the end of this Parliament, for a detailed debate on aviation and airports policy, so that communities whose lives are so seriously affected can look forward to the prospect of a more level runway, in terms of their dealings with the powerful aviation industry lobby?
Mrs. Beckett: I thought that runways were mostly level. I understand my hon. Friend's concerns entirely. For most of us who live in the area, the East Midlands airport is both convenient and successful, but I understand that many of his constituents feel the consequences of that. I understand his desire for a debate on the matter, although he lost me slightly when he referred to the Heathrow fifth terminal inquiry, which seems to have been going on interminably. The idea that we might have to discuss that issue further fills me with horror.
I cannot undertake to find time for the special debate that my hon. Friend seeks, but I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends, with regard to the timing of the consultation document. My hon. Friend might like to raise the specific circumstances of his constituency in Westminster Hall.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): A fortnight ago, at Prime Minister's questions, the Prime Minister gave me an uncharacteristically straightforward response, when he gave a clear guarantee that the Government would veto European Union moves to include worker representation in company management structures. Given that the French Government now intend to introduce such a measure next week for discussion by the Council of Ministers, and that there is considerable speculation that the Government have now changed their position, can the Prime Minister be brought to the House to make a statement as to why he is to renege on that promise?
Mrs. Beckett: Of course the French Government will continue to pursue the matter, because that is a change that they wish to make. However, I can set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. The Government have no intention of changing their position, and, in consequence, there is nothing for the Prime Minister to report.
Mrs. Beckett: I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks and return my good wishes to all right hon. and hon. Members, particularly those who regularly attend these events. I am grateful to her for giving me an opportunity to clarify the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet. I did not intend to convey the idea that I was committing the Government either for or against a debate in the fulness of time. I simply identified the fact that this was quite a recent decision and no doubt the Department will wish to consider the matter carefully. It is not clear to me what action may be proposed.
As for my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister being in charge of his Department, I think that the hon. Lady has chosen an unfortunate example, as surely none of us wishes to see Ministers in charge of the courts in this country.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): I welcome next week's opportunity to debate and vote on the embryology research regulations, but many seriously ill patients and their carers will find it difficult, given the short notice, to make direct representations to their Members of Parliament, which they regret. However, I urge the right hon. Lady to reject allegations that the matter has not been given full consideration, bearing in mind the fact that the first report came out in December 1998, the Donaldson report was published in August, and the matter has been before the House since 31 October.
Finally, I ask the right hon. Lady to join me in pointing out that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and his colleagues can hardly call for primary legislation when, on 31 October, they voted against a First Reading calling for primary legislation as one way of getting these important regulations on the statute book.
Mrs. Beckett: I am aware that the hon. Gentleman brought forward a ten-minute Bill on the issue and that it was opposed by those who oppose the regulations. He is right that the matter has been before the House for some time, which is why I do not wholly share his view about short notice. People know that there is a debate this Friday; they are aware that the draft regulations have been
I gently remind the hon. Gentleman, and the Opposition Members who have raised the matter, that when we were first pressed on the Floor of the House as to when the matter would be coming forward, most right hon. and hon. Members anticipated that the order would be introduced and that there would be one debate on it, probably relatively early in the new Session. So in fact more time has elapsed than people might have anticipated, because the Government have allowed more time for discussion and debate.